HAITI LEADER IS OPPOSED TO REDUCTION OF UN FORCE
(New York Times) - By Randal C. Archibold
A plan to cut the number of United Nations peacekeepers in Haiti drew a rebuke on Thursday from its president, Michel Martelly, who said in an interview that he “would not even think of reducing” the force because the country remained unstable and the national police were not ready to take over.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations has recommended that the deployment be extended for another year, but that the number be reduced in the coming year to about 9,000 troops from more than 12,000, returning the level to what it was before the January 2010 earthquake.
Mr. Martelly said the reduction had been discussed before a group of Uruguayan sailors were accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian man in July, an episode that was caught on video and spread on the Internet.
The president, speaking at his hotel in Manhattan while attending the United Nations General Assembly, said the assault case “put gas on the fire” of relations between Haitians and the peacekeepers. Nonetheless, he said, the force should stay at its current strength.
“Haiti needs the support of Minustah right now,” Mr. Martelly said, using the acronym for the United Nations’ mission. “There is still instability.”
He added, “Many people are playing politics, trying to ask Minustah to leave because they want to create instability. Minustah can only leave when there is an alternative.”
The peacekeeping mission, which comes up for a one-year renewal next month before the Security Council, was created in its current form in 2004 to stabilize Haiti after a political crisis. The United Nations troops go on patrol, respond to emergencies and help train the Haitian National Police, a force of about 10,000 officers, about half of what experts say is needed.
The peacekeepers’ presence has long been a contentious issue in Haiti, where some consider the troops to be a heavy-handed occupation force. Others say the troops are needed to control crime at a time when Haiti is trying to attract foreign investment.
Anger spread after it was determined last year that Nepalese peacekeepers had probably brought cholera to the country inadvertently, unleashing an epidemic that has killed more than 6,000 people. More recently, demonstrations erupted over the Uruguayan case.
A spokeswoman for the United Nations mission did not respond to a request for comment about Mr. Martelly’s remarks. Instead, she referred to comments by Mariano Fernandez, Mr. Ban’s representative in Haiti, who told the Security Council last Friday that additional troops had been crucial right after the quake but that the need was less dire now.
Mr. Martelly spoke in the interview on a wide range of issues, including an Amnesty International report released on Thursday that urged the Haitian authorities to prosecute Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former dictator who made a surprising return to Haiti in January, for human rights abuses.
Mr. Martelly said he had recently greeted Mr. Duvalier at the funeral of a mutual friend, but they did not discuss the matter. He said he would let the justice system take its course.
Mr. Martelly also disclosed that he would perform again as Sweet Micky, the bawdy Carnival singer persona he gave up to run for president last year.
He said Sweet Micky, known for stripping on stage, would return on Dec. 23 for a $1,000-a-ticket performance to raise $10 million for education. “Be ready,” he said. “When it is Sweet Micky you can predict what is going to happen on stage.”
Will it be 100 percent Sweet Micky? he was asked.
“The New York Times will be asking, ‘President, what happened to you last night?’ ” he replied. “And my answer will be, ‘I don’t know. I didn’t go to the show. Did you see it?’ ”